Battling Matlock gave top-of-the-table West Bridgford a fright before succumbing to a narrow 26-22 defeat at rain-soaked Cromford Meadows.
Determined to avenge a disappointing defeat in the corresponding fixture at Bridgford, the hosts played so well that they were frustrated not to get something out of the game.
But their consolation was that they played their part in a superb clash between two evenly-matched sides that was a terrific advert for the Midlands 2 East (North) division in the National League. It was only their fourth defeat of the campaign and they remain in fourth place.
Welcoming back Tom Stokes, Matlock enjoyed a good share of the early territory and possession to test the visitors’ defence and when Bridgford’s backs tried to throw the ball around, the home side’s defensive line held firm.
Matlock eventually, and deservedly, drew first blood when a training-ground three-quarter move saw Alex Powell burst into the line to make good ground before throwing a pass to Luke Howard, who raced over in the corner. Tom Morton’s conversion attempt was short.
Bridgford aren’t league leaders for nothing, however, and it wasn’t long before they created space out wide to send the winger away and despite some scrambling defence, they squeezed over for a score in the corner.
The pendulum continued to swing one way and the other, but the home side were having the better of the forward battle at this stage, looking stronger in the scrum and in the driving maul. A catch and drive on the visitors’ 22 saw the Matlock pack drive their way close to the line, where James Young peeled away to dive over for the try.
Again Bridgford drew level, making the most of a missed tackle to make good ground and defying a brave, last-ditch tackle from Powell, and with the conversion added, they edged ahead 12-10 at the interval.
The game remained finely balanced in the second half, but Matlock continued to press and wrestled back the lead with a touch-down from Simon Wright.
Battle now truly commenced as Bridgford threw everything at the home side, whose defence was magnificent under a continued onslaught. Only when Matlock were rediuced to 13 men because of two yellow cards did the visitors assert, scoring a hard-earned try for a 19-15 lead.
Moments later, the seven-man Matlock scrum collapsed, gifting Bridgford a penalty try, but the hosts weren’t finished and stayed in contention up to the final whistle after a try from Tom Cruttenden and conversion from Tom Morton.